An alternative hub airport in the south east must be developed quickly if it is decided that Heathrow Airport cannot realistically be expanded beyond three runways, the ICE and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation have said.
The two bodies said the debate had become too heavily politicised and centred on a third runway at Heathrow as they responded to the government’s draft aviation policy framework consultation.
They called for a twin track approach to aviation capacity, which pushes ahead with solutions that will maintain the UK’s position as a leading aviation hub in the longer term while focusing on what can be delivered in the short term to relieve the capacity constraints at Heathrow and keep the UK from slipping behind its European rivals.
The two institutions said the approach should also acknowledge the vital role UK regional airports play in connecting flights to the national hub. They said efforts must be made to ensure lack of access to landing slots at Heathrow does not undermine regional airports’ ability to fulfil this role.
“Looking to the longer term, to maintain its global economic competitiveness, the UK needs a hub with more than three runways and rapid access to Central London,” said ICE aviation expert panel Alex Lake. “If we decide Heathrow can’t or shouldn’t be expanded to this size we will need to develop a new hub facility elsewhere in South East England. This will naturally take time, so the Davies Commission must press on with evaluating all available long term options now.
“This however, does not remove the need for action over the next five to 10 years to keep the UK in the game in the short term. The Commission must therefore simultaneously conduct a thorough review of all the short term options.”
The ICE and the CIHT warned that expanding Heathrow or building a new hub airport will never become a reality if investors do not believe the UK has an aviation strategy that can survive a change of Government.
“The creation of an independent commission to examine future capacity needs and how they could be met is welcome, but its final report will not be published until after 2015, potentially causing yet more delay and indecision and damaging the UK’s credibility as a location for private investment in aviation infrastructure,” said CIHT chief executive Sue Percy. “The Commission’s interim report in 2013 must indicate a clear direction of travel and come 2015, the government should make an unambiguous decision that has cross party consensus and can be driven forward.”
The ICE and the CIHT said ministers should bring in legislation to create a special, time limited delivery body like the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to implement the Davies Commission’s recommendations. Such a body would be essential in providing focus and leadership for timely and efficient delivery of what will be a hugely complex project.
“When it comes to the UK’s airport infrastructure needs, there are some tough political and public choices, but the UK’s reputation is on the line,” said Lake. “We must establish an agreed, coherent strategy that reflects our future capacity needs and sets out how they could realistically be met over both the short and long term.
“The transport and engineering profession stands ready to contribute expertise gained on recent large scale projects – not least the Olympics – and ensure the Commission receives robust advice on the challenges and deliverability of all the solutions on the table.”
Key ICE/CIHT recommendations
- A twin track approach to UK aviation capacity, which pushes ahead with realistic long term and shorter term solutions
- Legislation to create a special, time limited delivery body like the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to implement the Davies Commission’s recommendations
Action to ensure UK regional airports can fulfil their role:
- The introduction of a public service obligation for Heathrow and any future UK hub, preserving landing slots to key UK regional airports where a high speed rail option is not available. This would need to be accompanied by appropriate compensation arrangements for hub operators
- An urgent review of the impact of current levels of Air Passenger Duty on the competitiveness of UK regional airports.